Aug 04

A discourse on step father-hood. Step one: Friendship

One of the most recurring themes on this blog has been my adventures with my step son, Griffin.

I frequently write about the things that I do with him and the little wins that I feel I have and the times where I feel crushed that I am not getting the “glory” for being his dad.

So I thought I would try to distill what it means to me to be a step dad into a few quick notes for anyone else going through the process of becoming a step dad or wondering how others cope with various things.

First off, to be clear, I had no choice about becoming a step father. I love my wife Emma with all my heart and having her in my life means having Griffin in it too.

Him and I fight all the time. Though I am also including all the kung fu and tickling matches we have which really are all just games. Griffin challenges me on a daily basis and sometime I wonder how I am supposed to cope yet in truth, he is a 6 year old boy testing the boundaries of his life, learning how to become a man.

As with any list, this is nowhere near complete, accurate, or even based on any quantitative data (or qualitative data for that matter) and is merely what I think about from time to time.

Introductions over, lets take a look at the first point I want to discuss, Friendship.

I believe that any man becoming a step father is usually going to start by being friendly with the child. This is natural, we want the child to like us. In fact we have probably been very friendly with the child since the first day we met them, after all, how did you get Mum to agree to be yours in the first place?

Now friendship is important between children and adults and many people wll tell you that this is a natural order for parents and has been since the beginning of time. After all, if your kids don’t like you, how will you get them to listen to you???

This seems very simple but for a new father, for someone stepping into a new family, this is not as cut and dried as it may initially seem.

The parachute drop of instant friend of mommy’s and perpetual all round nice guy for a young child is like a drug. As soon as you start to tap off on it, they get withdrawal symptoms and react accordingly, just like any adult wanting their morning cuppa coffee or their first fag of the day. Like any addict, they have to be weaned slowly off of their addiction and shown the balance of normal day to day living and playtime.

If you don’t handle this carefully, your child will see you as their own personal plaything and not as a responsible parent or even as Mummy’s friend. This will quickly escalate to an untenable solution.

Changing this behaviour is difficult for both you and your child, so get as many steps as you can into being seen as a parent more than a friend as early as you can.

Every child is going to be different, factors such as age, sex and their attatchment to the ideal that their parents could still be together if it wasn’t for you are all things that will alter their perception of your relationship. I don’t for a second think that a 15 year old daughter is going to behave in the same was as my now 6 year old son!

Anyways, all I wanted to point out here (and thinking about it it makes sense that this is more applicable to younger kids) is that they idolize mom and you are a plaything, be careful  not to undermine your role as a parent by only being a plaything.

Emma and I set some really decent guidelines to help both Griffin and I throguh this adjustment in our lives, she told me that consistency is key. If you say no, DO NOT change your mind, even if you regret it later. If you want to change you mind because you felt you have been unfair or over reacted or the situation has changed, set a task for your child to do and tell them that if they conclude that task successfully that you will REWARD them with a changed viewpoint. You have not simply given in to their demands, you have as a friend and parent found a workable alternative to a situation.

Not only does this keep your friendship in tact (sometimes 🙂 ) but it also cements your role as a guardian, as someone who is empowered to make decisions for them and that some decisions may be bad in their mind, but some are also good.

Friends also tell each other good things as well as share the bad, so if you are grumpy, tell your child why. If I have a hangover I typically get very grumpy and snappy and tell Griffin that I am in a bad mood because I didn’t get enough sleep. I tell him IN ADVANCE that I am being a banana for the day and that he has every right to tell me that I am being silly because I am grumpy. This empowers him to react accordingly to my own self generated misery and pretty much always gets me to snap out of it quite quickly as he makes a big thing of telling me I am being grumpy 🙂

That’s the bad, but what about the good?

Kids don’t want to be rewarded with toys and chocolate all the time. Ok, so they do want those things all the time but they can do without them. What they CAN’T do without is your approval. When your kid does something, praise them. They a desperate for adults approval of the way they do things. From simply helping you assemble a flat pack piece of furniture (their help usually makes things take at least twice as long) to remembering something you have told them before, telling your child “well done” will go a very long way to keeping you both friendly and your roles in perspective.

That’s all I am going to say in this post, feel free to let me know about your experiences, perhaps I can take a view on what I think I would do 🙂